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Addressing skills shortages in the golden age of rail

Mar 13, 2019

The rail industry is the backbone to Australian business, as it carries people and commodities across 33,000km of track across the country.

This industry continues to see enormous growth, adding $10.34 billion to the Australian economy in 2017 and will see a 5.5% increase in employment growth over the next five years.

According to Programmed Rail and Infrastructure National Manager Joe Yayalo, we are in the middle of an infrastructure boom. “There are a significant number of rail projects being delivered and planned for the immediate to medium future, with all of our key rail customers involved in this growth. State and Federal Governments have also committed over $100 billion for new projects and upgrades across the network over the next 10 years”, he said.

But with huge growth come the challenges in having the required workforce to help meet industry needs.

The Australian Industry Standards Rail Skills Forecast reported that the rail workforce of 2016 is almost the same size as the workforce of 2006, except it has grown older. The number of workers under 40 has fallen 3 per cent and the number over 40 has grown by 1.4 per cent.

There are shortages of suitably qualified rail workers, in particular Worksite Protection staff. Most rail operators have varied rail network rules that apply to these roles and there is no uniformity across the different networks. So, employees are required to have multiple sets of accreditations to work across a variety of networks, which means time invested in training and on site experience.

This means that there are huge opportunities for individuals to enter the industry and for businesses alike to help support the future rail industry workforce.

“There is currently an industry wide push to not only increase the number of qualified workers, but to also lift the skills standards. This is predominantly happening via the individual network operators moving to new training and upskilling regimes. Programmed is actively participating in our customer’s training programs and we partner with key specialist rail training organisations to meet these skills challenges and secure our own pool of safe and skilled workers for our customers”, said Joe.

Programmed offers training to people already working within the industry, to help them gain higher skill sets to widen their opportunities to work across multiple rail networks. Similarly, for those outside of the industry, while it is not a walk-up start, huge opportunities exist for individuals once they get their foot in the door. We recently welcomed eight new Level 1 Protection Officers who are now engaged with Programmed, after completing their training with us.

The industry, and Programmed, is also looking to recruit non-rail employees into the sector with a broader view of a cultural shift in behaviours of rail workers. Programmed recently ran a series of information nights held in Sydney to attract people from outside of the industry to Protection Officer roles. All sessions were well attended and we already have an enthusiastic group of people kicking off their training with us on the back of these sessions.  

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